The state of U.S. hegemony has become a prominent issue in the last decades, especially in East Asia. Some international relations (I.R.) scholars argue that a rapidly rising China and India have strained the region's U.S.-led "hub-and-spokes" security structure. In contrast, others view that American preponderance is difficult to dismantle because this alliance system in the Indo-Pacific is robust. However, the debate reinforces Western-centric and state-centric perspectives that ignore the role of peripheral actors below the state level of analysis. Without including a view from the 'periphery', it overlooks their relevance to American preponderance as fundamental in enabling U.S. hegemony and revealing its structural weaknesses.
Carmina Untalan's project, derived from her doctoral dissertation, addresses this gap by analysing the critical role of subalterns in (re)constructing U.S. hegemony in East Asia. Reframing Hegemony compares Muslim Mindanao and Okinawa, two 'peripheries' with complicated histories with their respective capitals and the United States. It argues that the American hegemony is a system that consolidates itself by reinforcing (post)colonial relations between the subordinate state capitals, Manila and Tokyo, and their peripheries, Muslim Mindanao, and Okinawa. At the same time, it produces modes of resistance that enable the subalterns to negotiate their position in the hierarchy and influence the conduct of the American hegemon and its allies. Carmina demonstrates that while the subalterns interrogate the legitimacy of the American hegemonic system, the U.S. and its allies treat it as indispensable for the system to confront power shifts in the region and maintain the status quo.
The project proposes a novel theoretical framework she calls the 'triptych of hegemony'. Inspired by Gramsci's notion of hegemony and its iterations in sociology, anthropology, postcolonial studies, and literature, it construes hegemony as a fluid, relational process of negotiating consent from subordinate groups. However, rather than limit the analysis to the binary relations between the hegemon and its subordinate state, the 'triptych' examines the interaction of three actors, the global hegemon, ally national governments, and the subalterns. This framework deviates from the mainstream I.R. approaches that treat hegemony as a static structure of domination and consent among nation-states and their actors.
Ultimately, Reframing Hegemony offers a perspective that transcends the limited depiction of subalterns as passive subjects by presenting them as agents involved in the power dynamics at the national and global levels.